Burying a compass for her dead captain,
she begins a lop-sided life at the edge
of a fishing village: stops smoking out
the truant boys, stays upstairs,
swings in slow circles all day,
bed to window, window to bed.
Her doleful gardener, henna in his hair,
has feathers for fingers, famed across
his many milespans. Fathers and mothers,
lovers, rogues — they all bring him
girls to cure on her kitchen floor.
She dreads the slivered screams at night —
sentinels scurrying into her sleep, spearheads
glinting in the sweep of the lighthouse beam.
She dreads him growing richer by gold rings,
but keeps him for his fog-riding roses
that come flooding in over the salt wind.
he always writes longhand
word by word a steady pull
the slow and soft
advance of seepage
dusk to dark to dawn
or a bulldozer one-eye blind
pulsing home at night
and he tries to remember
what he had started to say
changing as he writes it
changing as words each one
fashions itself fastens itself
words with subaqueous thrills
and silent terrors and every
time he is startled by
what he has drawn out
longer thicker more vicious
than he has grasped before —
then the sting of whiplash as
hissing it shoots to a new star
Acid can easily eat a lock away
and let any thief in, my aunt told me
as we sat in the dusk at her doorway,
striped Brahmin white-and-ochre.
But the real way up, she said,
the way out of this earthly cycle,
is the unforced way: thread-end
through the needle’s eye,
a Buddha trick of attention
and clear sight or the clean ecstasy
of a bhakti glide.
Half-lit in the flickering
of the oil lamps in their hands,
the Narayana chanters slid by,
slipped into the temple gate.
We knew them all in the dark
by their gait and singsong,
just as we knew each faceless beggar
by his bowl and call.
I waited for her to reach the part
about lotus leaves unwetted by water,
and asked her again,
and again she told me
how she knew about acid:
her husband returning home one day
from his lab at the British factory,
hands in bandages,
cursing aqua regia and the gloves of flame
that would never come off all his life.
And in a twist of paper in his pocket
all that remained of his wedding ring —
just the diamond her father had brought from Mombasa,
intact, and now sparkling upon her nose-pin.